Review: “Yes Please” by Amy Poehler

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Yes Please is not a comedy book.

It’s a funny book, often laugh-out-loud funny, and it offers some fascinating insights into the world of comedy from the point-of-view of a veteran who’s seen it all, but it’s not a comedy book in the way its most frequent comparisons Bossypants and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Rather, this is a ragtag collection of essays offering equal parts anecdotes, advice, lists and a long and extremely grateful series of thank yous. That’s not a bad thing – indeed, spending over 300 pages with someone as positive and amiable as Amy Poehler is nothing but a pleasure.

For those hoping for long, juicy passages dedicated to spilling the behind the scenes gossip of Saturday Night Live or the break-up of Poehler’s marriage to Will Arnett, this is not the book for you. The former is reduced to a chapter of brief tidbits that nonetheless provide a few giggles, while Poehler remains entirely respectful of her ex, and it is respect that seems to drive this book. Poehler’s gratitude to the people who helped her in her career (Seth Meyers writes a chapter of the book), her personal life (she thanks her nannies by name) and the many famous people she meets, including those who criticised her. The highlight of the book comes with an essay on shame and knowing when to apologise. Poehler at her strongest is the Poehler you’ve read about in every other female comedian’s book. Tina Fey dedicated a chapter to her in Bossypants, Mindy Kaling revealed it was Poehler that inspired her to remain in show business, and Rachel Dratch continued the praise-fest.

It takes a certain kind of charm to pull off the level of name-dropping Poehler does without coming across as a staggering narcissist, and Poehler has charm in droves. What she also has is heart. She loves what she does and the people she does it with. She’s not one for unnecessary negativity or cynicism. Praise is doled up by the bucketful, as Poehler recounts various meetings with people and extols their virtues. She offers advice that seems simple on the surface yet feels wholly needed – you don’t have to laugh if someone says something that isn’t funny. Too often we try to tackle chaos that isn’t ours to fix. Writing is hard but sometimes you just have to dig in and do it.

That last part is true, yet it also highlights one of the book’s weaknesses. Poehler herself admits that her weary prologue sharing the difficulties she had with writing her book are partly to lower reader expectations before she knocks it out of the park, but her hesitation with her own words looms over the book like the demon of negativity she describes in one perceptive essay. The confidence is there and Poehler can still land a joke like the pro she is, yet her need to undersell herself is ever present and offers a jarring contrast to her own calls for self-belief. This may also explain some of the book’s various forms of padding, which takes the form of lists, additions from Poehler’s parents, entertaining footnotes from the co-creator of Parks & Recreation and always entertaining photos of 80s Poehler with Working Girl hair.

It’s become a strange negative these days to describe people as likeable. It’s understandable – women are expected to live up to this standard far more often than men, which can prove limiting on a personal and creative level. Being nice isn’t cool or interesting for many, and it seems like such a lazy way to describe someone, but it’s the truth – Amy Poehler is likeable. She’s nice. Yes Please confirms the belief of many fans that she’s just a damn good person, and it makes for a refreshing read.

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